‘The two days journey from Indonesia to Australia was without sleep and my thoughts were so over-clouded with different questions such as what will happen to me when I arrive? Where to go? Who to talk to? Where to sleep? What happens when the little money I have gets exhausted? Am I going to be kept in detention?’, said I recent refugee who was supported by charity, House of Welcome (HoW).
Now, as a recent boat travelling to Australia lands on the small Micronesian island of Yap, on the 21st November 2014, these questions are still being asked by individuals as well as political questions by nations about how to approach this sensitive issue.
A recent Guardian report has claimed that there are currently (June 2014) 50m Asylum Seekers world wide. ‘The number of people forced to flee their homes across the world has exceeded 50 million for the first time since the second world war’, said the Guardian report.
This is alarming, to say the least, especially when half the world's refugees are children, claims the annual UN high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR) global trends report. They elaborate to say that ‘many are travelling alone or in groups in a desperate quest for sanctuary, and often fall into the clutches of people traffickers’.
Australia is currently in a social and political quandary about asylum seekers and refugees, but in the interim asylum support projects such as House of Welcome (HoW) aim to support those seeking refuge.
The House of Welcome is a word of mouth and referral organization for refugees, which was established in 2001 with the support of churches and community organisations and volunteers. It was originally established to assist refugees on Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs).
‘We aim to welcome, shelter, and empower asylum seekers and refugees regardless of their age, gender, sexuality, nationality or religion. We aspire to provide client-centred holistic supports that nurture hope, advocate for justice and promote self-reliance, while acknowledging the dignity and championing rights of each individual’, said a HoW Paul Botrill, CEO. ‘HoW ensures they are welcomed and that they understand their rights and get support’, continued a HoW representative.
Projects like this are working towards a better live for asylum seekers, but still many are against asylum seekers coming to Australia. However, when looking at the facts of asylum seekers and refugees to Australia it is important to note that it is not illegal for asylum seekers to arrive. In fact, Article 31 of the Refugee Convention states that ‘refugees should not be penalised for arriving without valid travel documents’.
HoW try to clarify this by highlighting, ‘what may be considered an illegal action under normal circumstances (e.g. entering a country without a visa) should not, according to the Convention, be considered illegal if a person is seeking asylum. Australian and international law make these allowances because it is not always safe or even possible for asylum seekers to obtain travel documents or travel through authorised channels’.
An asylum seeker is therefore defined as, ‘a person outside his or her country of origin, normally fleeing persecution and in most cases are being persecuted by their own governments, or forced to flee with little notice due to rapidly deteriorating situations’. Once accepted and granted refuge, asylum seekers become refugees of that country.
‘The reason for leaving my country in such a manner was to flee for my life. To go far from people that derive joy in depriving one’s right’, said a refugee from HoW.
Despite the successes of projects such as HoW, some people have said, that “Australia is being swamped by asylum seekers’. However, the Refugee Council state, that ‘compared to other refugee-hosting countries, Australia receives a very small number of asylum applications. In 2012, Australia received 29,610 asylum applications, just 1.47 per cent of the more than two million claims lodged across the world through individual application and group recognition processes. By contrast, Turkey received 325,301 asylum applications - more than ten times the number received by Australia’.
The Refugee Council report continues by explaining that in 2013, 20,587 asylum seekers arrived in Australia by boat. ‘While this was the highest number ever recorded in Australia, it is still a relatively small number in global terms. In 2012, boat arrivals to Yemen hit a record high of 107,500 people, more than five times higher than Australia’s record total’, detailed the report. It is also interesting when you compare the wealth of countries against Australia. ‘Yeman has a GDP per capita of just over $US1,500, compared to Australia’s GDP per capita of close to $US70,900’, highlighted the report.
In addition to this, the Refugee Council detailed that, ‘at the end of 2012, over 80 per cent of the 10.5 million refugees under the mandate of UNHCR were hosted by developing countries. Pakistan was hosting over 1.6 million refugees, Iran was hosting 868,242 and Kenya was hosting 564,933 - dwarfing the 13,750 refugees granted permanent residency by Australia each year. In 2012, Australia offered protection or resettlement to less than one per cent of the refugees protected or resettled in that year’.
House of Welcome say they want, for ‘a society in which there is full recognition of the dignity, equality, human rights and humanity of all people living in the community no matter their age, gender, sexuality, nationality or religious affiliation, and no matter how they came to be in Australia’. This ethos is paramount to integrate refugees into society.
In fact, research has shown that refugees, once they have the opportunity to establish themselves, make important contributions to Australian society. ‘Australia’s refugees and humanitarian entrants have found success in every field of endeavour, including the arts, sports, media, science, research, business and civic and community life. Just some of the many Australian high achievers who once were refugees include: scientists Sir Gustav Nossal and Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, 2009 Victorian of the Year Dr Berhan Ahmed, painter Judy Cassab, comedian Anh Do, filmmaker Khoa Do, author Nam Le, academic Associate Professor My-Van Tran, Dr Anita Donaldson, poet Juan Garrido-Salgado, painter and restaurateur Mirka Mora, actor Henri Szeps, broadcasters Les Murray and Caroline Tran, Australian Rules footballer Alex Jesaulenko, footballer Atti Abonyi, swimmers John and Ilsa Konrads, newspaper editor Michael Gawenda, architect Harry Seidler, business people Sir Peter Abeles, Larry Adler, Ouma Sananikone and Judit Korner, public servant Tuong Quang Luu and politicians Jennie George and Nick Greiner’, highlighted the Refugee Council.
House of Welcome’s aim is therefore to help refugees establish themselves into the Australian community. One of HoW’s recent successes that highlight this, is that of the story of Sanjay (not real name) who came to Australia with his family from Asia. ‘The father and daughter were at the Refugee Tribunal Stage and had some but limited income support, about $800 per fortnight. The mother had not any right to income. The caseworker immediately secured a mental health referral for the family and a meeting with their Red Cross caseworker to get the father the physical health treatment he needed. After being denied by Department of immigration & Citizenship (DIAC) for financial and case management support (through their Community Assistance Support (CAS) Program), HoW helped move the family into a new unit. HoW paid the bond on the unit and put in a rental support program, continuing to support them with food parcels. Later, they were granted working rights and are now self sustaining’, said a statement from HoW.
So, despite that rejection and refusal of asylum seekers by a large part of the population, when looking at the facts, the drain on our society is not in line with the rejection that it attains. It is therefore up to projects like HoW to continue to support asylum seekers with refuge in the interim. In fact, until there is equality across the globe, the issue of asylum seekers and refugees will always be the front of all political campaigns, but it is about time we look at individuals.
‘By definition, refugees are survivors. They have survived because of their courage, ingenuity and creativity. These are qualities which we value in Australia. If we assist newly arrived refugees to recover from the experiences of their past and rebuild their lives in Australia, we will reap the benefits of the qualities and experiences they bring to our society’, concluded a Refugee Council statement.
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